At the end of July, Microsoft released a new version of the operating system that’s running most of the world’s computer. It is called Windows 10.
Microsoft received much criticism because of the confusing interface of Windows 8 and this version fixes many of the biggest issues. The interface of Windows 10 is somewhere between Windows 7 and 8 – this means it will be familiar to users coming from either. Microsoft also promised that it will continue improving it in future updates without waiting for another big release.
But what’s interesting for us is what Windows 10 does for people with dyslexia and related difficulties. Microsoft did not introduce any new ‘accessibility’ features but many of its key improvements, will make Windows 10 more accessible for everyone.
Note: This post only focuses on new features relevant to users with additional needs. You can read more about all the new features in other places on the web.
Here's an overview of this post in a mind map
Cortana: Key accessibility feature
Most people have heard of Apple’s Siri – a speech interface to your iPhone. Google also lets you speak to your Android phone. With Windows 10, you can now speak to your computer.
In fact, the Cortana search box saying “Ask my anything” with a microphone next to it may be the first thing you’ll see.
Microsoft’s Siri is called Cortana and you’ll get answers or reactions when you say things like:
- Hey Cortana, remind me to leave for a doctor’s appointment in 1 hour.
- Hey Cortana, what is 5 Euros in Pounds (or 5 Celsius in Farenheit or 2 inches in centimetres)?
- Hey Cortana, what is 54 divided by 32 (or square root of 345 or what percent is 50 of 200)?
- Hey Cortana, define accessibility? (will give you a dictionary definition)
- Hey Cortana, what films are showing in Norwich?
- Hey Cortana, how tall is Barack Obama? (will give you the answer)
- Hey Cortana, launch Word.
- Hey Cortana, what is the formula for circumference of the circle? (will do an online search using Bing.com)
As you see, Cortana is a really powerful way to help you get organised on your computer. The reminders and maths features could make a real difference.
Cortana’s not perfect but for people who may struggle with things like spelling it is very powerful. And we can expect it to only get better.
If you don’t want to say Hey Cortana all the time, you can launch the interface by clicking on the microphone in the search box or typing the keyboard shortcut WindowKey + C.
In previous versions of Windows, you could switch between open windows using the famous Alt-Tab shortcut. But when you let go, the list of open windows disappears. This meant it wasn’t very useful when you had a lot of windows open at once.
In Windows 10, you have a new command combining Tab with the Win key ( ). This will show you all the open windows at once. But even better, it won’t disappear until you choose one of the windows. You can either click on the one you want, or you can use the Arrow Keys to navigate and hit enter.
See this post on using keyboard shortcuts
If your hand is already on your mouse (or you forget the shortcut), you can just click on the Task View button next to the Cortana search bar.
Multiple virtual desktops
Another new way to stay better organized and more focused is virtual desktops. This way, you can separate work and play or different projects you’re working on.
You start in Task View and click the New Desktop button on the right (or hit Ctrl-Win-D). Then, stay in Task View and drag the windows you want to separate into the desktop you want. You can then use Task View to switch between your virtual desktops as well as windows.
Read more about using Virtual Desktops.
Action Centre Notifications
Another useful new feature is called Action Centre. Windows can now collect all the reminders and notes from different apps into one area. It’s also the place where you can quickly change settings like turn wifi on and off, or even set Quiet Hours when the computer will not disturb you. This will make it a lot easier to achieve daily tasks.
Quick Launch Settings and Apps with Search
Many people don’t set the right settings on their machine because it is often difficult to find them in all the different places. In Windows 10, you don’t have to remember where the settings are, just know what you want to change. Then simply search in the search bar and you will be given options.
You can also just hit the Win key and start typing. Search results will appear automatically.
For example, if you want to change when your computer goes to sleep, just search for ‘sleep’:
You will then get a list of options having to do with sleep and the first will be the Sleep settings. The just hit Enter.
You can also use this way to open applications. No more hunting through menus or looking for icons on your desktop. Just hit the Win key and type the name of the software you want to open.
When it comes up at the top, hit enter.
If the software you want is not the first option, you can either continue typing or use the arrow keys to get to it and then hit Enter.
Search and launch also works in Windows 8 or even Windows 7. But it is much more usable in Windows 10. It is faster and finds more relevant items. You can read more about these in a previous Tech Thursday.
Edge: New web browser with great support for reading
Everybody remembers the bad old days of Internet Explorer. It was so slow and unreliable (although better in the latest versions) that most people who knew how installed either Chrome or Firefox.
The default web browser in Windows 10 is called Edge and it is much faster and supports even the latest web features. But even better, it has three great features that support reading.
Unfortunately, it still does not support plugins, so it’s impossible to install a speak button or a password filler. See here for other suggestions on making your computer speak.
You can simplify a page with lots of text by launching the Readability View. We discussed the ins and outs of distraction-free reading in a previous post.
Share to reading list
You can click the share button to send the page to a special app called reading list which will save things to read for later.
You can even annotate the page you’re on and then save it to OneNote or some other note taking app.
Users who know and like Chrome or Firefox should probably stick with them but Internet Explorer users will see a great improvement in their web browsing.
Note: Edge may not display some old pages correctly (this is most likely to happen with old corporate apps designed for Internet Explorer). For those cases, the old Internet Explorer is still included.
Should you install Windows 10?
As you can see, Windows 10 is likely to improve your productivity and make your machine more accessible. But should you upgrade your existing PC or just wait until you buy a new one? Microsoft wants everybody who can to upgrade and is making the upgrade free until July 2016. So far, there are very few reports of Windows 10 wrecking somebody’s PC. But with any upgrade, there’s a small risk.
On any PC bought in the last 3 years or so, you should see a definitive benefit to running Windows 10. But as always, there’s a small risk that upgrading will break something. It is much smaller with Windows 10 than before, but the risk is still there.
Note: I’ve now installed Windows 10 on a desktop (3 years old) and a laptop (1 year old) and in both cases, the process was smooth and everything worked fine after the upgrade. But your set up may vary. For instance, some of our corporate software is not yet fully compatible.
Unlike in the past, Microsoft will now pester you to install and upgrade the operating system. Here’s a short breakdown of things to consider before you say yes.
- Have a standard machine bought in the last 3 years
- Run Windows 8 or 8.1
- Have backed up all your files
- You are happy to try new things
- Don’t use any old or specialised software
- Run Windows 7
- Microsoft suggests you should do it
- Have tested your mission-critical apps on a trial install
Definitely not, if
- Currently run Windows XP (but you should definitely upgrade to at least Windows 7)
- Have an old PC (over 5 years)
- Run a business with mission-critical software that hasn’t been properly tested
- You don’t like learning new things
- You don’t feel like you need the new features
The process will take 1-2 hours, so you should also make sure you have some free time. Read more about why you should upgrade to Windows 10.
What should we cover next?
If you’d like to suggest what else this blog can cover, you can add your voice to the roadmap document.
Word document version of this post
Note: Watch this video before you download and install any free software.
Dominik Lukes - Education and Technology Specialist